Examine Tools Before PurchasingThoroughly examine the tool before purchasing. Ask yourself some questions while looking for garden tools. For example:
- is it metal or plastic?
- does it bend easily?
- will it rust?
- how much will I use this tool?
Thoroughly Inspect Garden Tools Before UseSince it is now time to begin preparing the vegetable garden, let's take a minute to prepare our tools.
Wood PartsWood handles on long and short tools need to be sanded and oiled at regular intervals, usually once a year is enough. Wipe off the handle to clean, and use little if any water. Use fine sand paper to smooth the surface. Remove the dust and rub linseed oil into the handle. Let it soak in. Use as much as it takes until it doesn't absorb any more. Wait about a half hour, then dry off any remaining on the surface.
Fiberglass PartsWash with soap and water, then hang up to dry. Check handles for any cracks or splintering. You don't want to put a lot of force on a tool with a cracked handle. If it were to break while using the item, you could end up on the ground wondering what happened - or worse.
Metal SurfacesStore metal tools like shovels in a 5-gallon bucket filled with coarse sand to which oil (motor oil, vegetable oil, or WD-40 works well) has been added. You can store tools in the winter in the sand or remove and wipe off. Alternately, you can use a smaller bucket of sand and oil as a cleaning step. Each time you use your tools, clean as much dirt as you can, then dig the tool up and down in the sand a few times to clean off remaining dirt and coat the head with oil. The oil coating removes rust from the tool and prevents it from recurring. Once a year, clean metal surfaces with a wire brush to remove dirt and light rust. If the rust is a bit worse, you can sometimes remove it by soaking the tool in white vinegar; otherwise use steel wool. The extent of the rust determines what grade to use. Start with the least coarse grade you can to remove the rust. Once the rust is removed and the entire surface is clean, you can apply a rust-proofing primer. Steel wool and repaint any rough areas. File the cutting edge of your metal tools to keep the blade sharp. Practice makes perfect. Even a badly sharpened tool is easier to use that a dull tool. To make short work of your filing projects, install a bench vise on your workbench. With the tool securely gripped by this second set of "hands" you'll be able to quickly and safely file the business end of your tool. If you regularly file your tools, it will take but a few strokes to keep a fine sharp edge. To file, use a Mill file. Start with the top edge of the tool. File away from you, using long even strokes at the same angle as the original bevel. Lift the tool between strokes. File the opposite side lightly just to remove roughness or burrs for a clean, sharp edge. Always hose off and dry your tools after use to keep them sharp and prevent rust. Use a general purpose oil to quickly wipe blades and metal surfaces to condition between uses.
Pruning toolsClean the tool and its blades each time you use it. Use WD-40 to keep moving parts working freely. Pruners may need to be disassembled first. Use a whetstone to sharpen blades. Many vegetable gardeners color the blade to be sharpened with a black felt tip marker and sharpen evenly until all traces of the marker have been removed. Sharpen only beveled edges and always shape blades to maintain the original shape of the bevel. For very expensive pruners, have them professionally sharpened or invest in a specialty tool to make sure you can sharpen them correctly. Final note You can condition and sharpen tools yourself, or find a professional to sharpen them for you. Regardless of which direction you decide to go, your tools will last for years and give you decades of easy use. Remember to always use safety glasses when working with files, or power tools. One metal splinter can cause a heck of a lot of damage if it gets in your eye. Using good maintenance practices for your garden tools is not very difficult, but not doing it could make your vegetable gardening much less pleasant. So take the little bit of time required to care for your garden tools before and after each use.
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